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Strict sense

They blew up a parking garage yesterday morning, a block from The Sun.

Mercy Hospital is expanding, and the Loizeaux family of Baltimore County, justly famed for conducting controlled demolitions around the world, brought the 10-story garage down to make room.

The technique, in which the central supports are collapsed in a series of explosions so that the structure falls in on itself, is popularly called an implosion. When I suggested to my colleagues at the paper that we might want to avoid using implosion in the story, they goggled at me as if I had just announced that I was receiving messages from Mars through the fillings in my teeth.  

Implosion, I explained, is a technical term for the circumstances in which the external pressure on an object becomes so much greater than its internal pressure that the object explodes in on itself. The term became widespread after it was used to explain what happens to buildings in the explosion on an atomic bomb. The demolition of the parking garage was not, strictly speaking, an implosion but a controlled collapse.

My colleagues came back with an irrefutable reply. “It’s in the dictionary,” they said.

So it is. So are many other things. Dictionaries will show you that people use infer and imply interchangeably. Dictionaries will show you that people use impact as a verb. Dictionaries will show you the usages that lexicographers — bless their hearts — discover. But dictionaries tend not to be much help in determining whether a word should be used in a strict, technical sense or a broad, popular sense.

It didn’t disturb me to read that George Allen’s candidacy had imploded because of a series of inept remarks, because it was plain that the word was being used metaphorically. But implosion for a controlled demolition is not a metaphor. It is the wrong technical term.

Even so, I was overruled by my betters, and implosion was published in the article.

But I kept it out of the headline.


Posted by John McIntyre at 9:16 AM | | Comments (3)


>Even so, I was overruled by my betters, and implosion was published in the article.

About your "betters", I recall a lesson from the skipper of the destroyer I joined after college: I used the word "superiors" about something. He corrected me. "I have lots of seniors, but no superiors."

What good is it to be a Titan of Copy Editing if you can be "overruled"?

Sounds as if you need to get into the dictionary business.

At least people weren't pushing for using "explosion."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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